It’s clear that The Wizard of Oz is out of copyright. As well as Wicked (which I rather enjoyed, at least the book), Oz, the great and powerful and now we’ve got a TV adaptation called Emerald City.
Part of me wants Emerald City to succeed. They took the original, and it’s clearly still there, and updated it for for the twenty-teens. Dorothy is not a kick-ass action heroine, but she’s a lot more modern, independent woman than the original. She’s a nurse, living alone and a successful, independent woman. Toto isn’t an annoying, little, yapping dog, but a police dog that she acquires in her journey to Oz.
However, a bigger part of me thinks, in years to come, it will be held up as a classic of “how not to do an adaptation” simply because they’ve changed everything to the point it's almost impenetrable.
The Scarecrow is a soldier with amnesia who was crucified and left to die. He fits the definition of a man with no brain, in some ways too pointedly given the other tweaks, but it feels like a brutal reimagining.
The munchkins are a barbarian, fur-wearing tribe, who waterboard Dorothy. Why do they waterboard her? Well she still kills the witch when she arrives, but the Cardinal Witches (that’s their title) are beloved by the populace even as they’re hated by the Wizard. The barbarian not-Munchkins are really unhappy that Dorothy killed the great and beneficent witch!
We’ve met a candidate for the lion but, confusingly, he’s also a candidate for the tin man too. He’s the head of the wizard’s guard who is tramping around, chasing Dorothy with orders to kill her. He’s in shiny, rather impractical, armour - so he’s visually a candidate for the tin man. However, he’s in charge of a small group of men who were going to kill him and accuse him cowardice, but he killed their assassin and said “a lion did it” so there’s a spoken clue to suggest he’s meant to be the lion.
There’s a poorly developed other character who is surprisingly strong. Keeping us in the dark about who this character is must be a deliberate choice but if we assume that the on-the-nose look of the king’s guard makes him the tin man, her look with long wavy hair and her unexpected strength which was one episode’s cliff-hanger would make her the lion.
We have, since then, met another candidate for a tin man, and a tin Princess, who lacks understanding of human emotional behaviour, so it another candidate for “the (wo)man without a heart.”
Oz reimagined as a grown-up, modern, darker fantasy is something I’d like to work. I think if Emerald City had the Oz trappings stripped out it probably wouldn’t have the budget but it would make a comfortable fantasy series to watch on SyFy or Netflix. The number of changes to Oz that Emerald City has given us has resulted in something really quite twisted, sadly to the point I suspect the show will be shedding viewers faster than it really should. It’s not subverting expectations to say something new, which is what Wicked did so well, it’s, well I’m trying to decide between perverting them and throwing them back in the viewers face. There are so many changes, and so many that just seem random changes for the hell of it, that anyone watching solely for a modern version of The Wizard of Oz will have gone. But anyone watching for something like The Game of Thrones will be disappointed with the lack of blood and sex. It needs an identity, but with a name like Emerald City I can’t help feeling it had one and it’s chosen to try its best to drive off its obvious core audience at the same time.
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